From the Desk of Kate Kendell, Esq.
If you live anywhere but in San Francisco, you are in the dog days of summer—you know, those long, hot, sunny, sweltering, shorts-and-short-sleeves sort of days with warm and sweaty evenings?
At this time of year in San Francisco, we wake up in fog and come home in fog—chilly, cool, swirling fog. But I am not complaining. This has been a great summer so far. My family is great, the kids are having a blast being out of school, and our NCLR family has expanded. We welcomed our new Director of Communications Erik Olvera, who will ably fill the shoes of Calla Rongerude. Calla will leave NCLR this fall after over four years as our exceptional Director of Communications. Calla was admired and respected by both media professionals and our movement colleagues. She helped to catapult NCLR to a new level of visibility and professionalism. She is leaving to follow her wife Jane to Iowa, where Jane accepted a tenure-track professorship. And if that was not enough change for Calla, Jane, and their daughter LuLu, just last week Jane gave birth to their second daughter, Tilda. We know you join us in sending them off with much love and support.
We also bid a farewell to Liz Seaton, who has led our federal policy and program supervision for the past two years. Liz recognized that NCLR can and should play a strong leadership role in moving key federal policy initiatives forward, and she was instrumental in moving NCLR into that role. She has been a key figure, strategist, and brain in Washington D.C. for our community for years, and her vision and tireless effort convinced us to hire our first-ever attorney for federal policy, Maya Rupert. Liz now heads out with her family on a cross-country road trip. Her legacy will be long felt.
This summer has already been jam-packed with key wins in the courts for NCLR and our whole community. Two cases that NCLR worked closely on enjoyed big wins—both with far-reaching implications—at the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, this U.S. Supreme Court. And our colleagues at GLAD had a recent big win in a federal trial court in Boston where the judge ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. You can read all about those cases in this newsletter.
As you sip an iced coffee or margarita at some sidewalk café, or sit on your porch or deck under the sun soaking up the Vitamin D, I hope you will appreciate and absorb how sweet these victories truly are. Summer is only half over, but I don’t think the good news has reached an end. We expect a ruling in the federal challenge to Prop 8 brought by Ted Olson and David Boies in the very near future. We also expect some sunny days in San Francisco. It is my hope and belief that both will be cause for celebration.
Two U.S. Supreme Court Victories Have Profound Significance for LGBT Community
NCLR is proud to announce two victories in the U.S. Supreme Court that have profound significance for the LGBT community. In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, NCLR went toe-to-toe with the Christian Legal Society to defend public universities’ non-discrimination policies. In Doe v. Reed, we rebutted false claims that people who seek to strip rights away from LGBT people are subject to intimidation and harassment.
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez
In a 5-4 decision that will affect public universities and colleges across the country, on June 28 the United States Supreme Court resoundingly affirmed that public schools can limit official recognition and funding to student groups that agree not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, and other bases.
The case arose when the Christian Legal Society (CLS) challenged the University of California Hastings College of the Law’s nondiscrimination policy, which requires all funded student groups to be open to all students. CLS argued that it had a First Amendment right not only to discriminate, but to receive public funding and official recognition while doing so. In a strongly-worded opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court upheld the University’s policy and rejected CLS’ argument: “In requiring CLS—in common with all other student organizations—to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, . . . Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations. CLS . . . seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings’ policy.”
In addition to its positive impact on public colleges and universities, the ruling put a stop to right-wing efforts to argue that non-discrimination policies violate free speech, and that anti-LGBT groups must be given a special exemption from non-discrimination policies. The Supreme Court’s rejection of these arguments is a major victory for those who value equality and justice—and a major setback for the right-wing, anti-gay groups who sought to use this case to create an unprecedented new loophole in nondiscrimination laws.
Throughout the case, NCLR was keenly aware of the high stakes not just for LGBT people, but for all groups protected by nondiscrimination laws. We worked closely with counsel for Hastings to craft legal arguments that would win the day and hold up on appeal, and we are thrilled—and relieved—by the positive result.
NCLR and Paul Smith of Jenner & Block LLP represent Outlaw, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender student group which intervened to defend Hastings’ non-discrimination policy.
Doe v. Reed
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Doe v. Reed, upholding Washington’s Public Records Act and affirming that states can require public disclosure of the names of people who sign statewide referendum petitions.
The case arose out of Referendum 71, Washington state’s 2009 controversial, hateful , and thankfully failed ballot initiative intended to repeal Washington’s domestic partnership law. Anti-LGBT rights groups asked the Court to strike down Washington’s Public Records Act, claiming that Referendum 71 supporters might be harassed and intimidated by the LGBT community if their names remained public. The anti-LGBT groups used false claims of harassment and intimidation—including blatant lies that Prop 8 supporters in California were subjected to a systematic “campaign” of violence by LGBT people—to attack laws that prevent fraud and abuse in the initiative process. If they had succeeded, the Court would have recognized an unprecedented new right to promulgate discriminatory laws in secret, with no safeguards to prevent fraud or ensure open debate.
Thankfully, the Court did not take the bait. In a June 24 decision, which was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said, “disclosing signatures help[s] protect the integrity of petitioning by ensuring that only valid signatures are counted toward getting an issue on the ballot.”
NCLR, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, refuting the false claims that supporters of Proposition 8 in California were subjected to intimidation and harassment.
A Victory for Clay Greene
In a tragic case that touched the hearts of thousands across the country, NCLR clients Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years, reached a settlement on July 22 resolving their lawsuit against the County of Sonoma and other defendants. Greene and Scull’s estate will receive more than $600,000 to compensate for the damages the couple suffered due to the County’s discriminatory and unlawful conduct.
“What Clay and Harold lost can never be replaced, but this settlement brings a measure of justice to their story,” said Amy Todd-Gher, Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Greene with The Law Office of Anne N. Dennis and Stephen O’Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong. “This victory sends an unmistakable message that all elders must be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that those who mistreat elders must be held accountable.”
Greene and Scull lived together for 20 years and had executed both mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another. In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.
In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate, the couple’s longtime friend Jannette Biggerstaff, filed a lawsuit alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.
In addition to agreeing to pay a substantial sum, as a result of the lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.
NCLR Helps Transgender Woman Win Challenge to Federal Prison “Freeze-Frame” Policy
In a hard-fought and heart-wrenching case, NCLR helped an incarcerated transgender woman successfully challenge the Federal Bureau of Prison’s “freeze-frame” policy, which prevents federal prisons from providing treatment to a transgender person unless they were already in treatment before being imprisoned. This policy leaves countless transgender federal prisoners with no way to obtain care—no matter how severely they are suffering or how clearly they qualify for transition-related care.
A U.S. District judge issued a ruling on June 7 in Adams v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, denying the government’s motion to dismiss a claim by Vanessa Adams that the BOP subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment by the repeated refusal to allow her to begin hormone therapy. For years, Vanessa was denied medically necessary transition-related care and prohibited from expressing her female gender identity, despite repeated requests. In his ruling, the judge rejected BOP’s argument that Vanessa’s claim should be invalidated because the prison finally started her on hormones. Citing the BOP’s consistently callous conduct toward Vanessa, the fact that BOP could stop Vanessa’s treatment at any time, and that BOP continues to enforce its freeze-frame policy, the judge ruled that the question of the constitutionality of the policy remains open.
NCLR, with the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and Bingham McCutchen LLP, represent Vanessa in her challenge to the BOP’s freeze-frame policy.
Marriage Equality: Recognition at Home and Abroad
NCLR continues to push for equal recognition and protection of our relationships and families. In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8, NCLR filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to hold that a majority cannot selectively strip a minority of a fundamental right. As we await U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in Perry, we are seeing tremendous progress across the country and around the world in the movement for marriage equality.
We saw a major victory on July 15 in Washington D.C. In a 5-4 decision, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals—D.C.’s highest court—upheld marriage equality in the District by rejecting petitions by anti-LGBT groups to put marriage equality to a citywide referendum. Adopting arguments made by NCLR and other groups in a friend-of-the-court brief, the court affirmed that the rights of minorities should not be put to a popular vote.
In another major victory, Judge Joseph Tauro of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled on July 8 in the cases of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, that the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples is unconstitutional. NCLR salutes our colleagues at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and the Attorney General of Massachusetts for bringing these landmark cases.
Abroad, in South America and Europe, two more nations embraced marriage equality. On July 15, Argentina’s Senate passed legislation to recognize same-sex unions. On July 21, Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, signed it into law. In Europe, Iceland passed a law recognizing the civil unions of same-sex couples as marriage. The same day the law took effect, Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir married her longtime partner, Jonina Leosdottir.
The Latest News from Capitol Hill: Federal Legislation Updates
NCLR Supports the Uniting American Families Act to Provide Justice for Bi-National Couples
Since 1993, NCLR’s Immigration Project has strongly advocated for the rights of same-sex bi-national couples, who seek the most basic human right to reside in the same country with their life partners. On July 15, NCLR took part in a Washington D.C. press conference with allies in Congress, members of the immigration community, and faith-based organizations to call on Congress to include LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform. With Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), we called on Congress to swiftly pass and enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes the Uniting American Families Act, which would end immigration discrimination against LGBT binational couples. NCLR helped draft the Uniting American Families Act and has worked tirelessly for its passage.
New Passport Policy for Transgender Applicants
NCLR worked with key allies to obtain new U.S. Department of State guidelines that make it easier for transgender people to obtain a new gender marker on passports. Under the new rules, applicants for a gender marker change on their passports no longer must comply with the outdated, invasive, and medically unsupported requirement of proving that they have undergone surgical procedures. Gender reassignment surgery is no longer required under the new guidelines, which simply require that applicants submit proof that they have received appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. This change will make a huge difference in the lives of transgender people, who will now be able to travel safely and with dignity, by having a passport that matches their gender identity. NCLR offers special thanks to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Council for Global Equality for their collaboration and hard work in securing this victory.
HUD Fair Housing Policy
NCLR played a key role in working with officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to adopt new policies to help LGBT individuals and families facing housing discrimination. The new guidance treats gender identity discrimination faced by transgender people as gender discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, and instructs HUD staff to inform individuals filing complaints about state and local agencies that have LGBT-inclusive discrimination laws. NCLR advised HUD officials about the scope of the problem, attended town halls held by HUD to receive public comment about specific instances of discrimination, and assured broad community participation in the town halls in order to ensure that a broad range of experiences and perspectives were shared with HUD officials.
Most recently, NCLR’s Federal Policy Attorney Maya Rupert took part in HUD’s listening session in Spokane in June. NCLR will continue to work closely with HUD officials to ensure that the new policies protecting LGBT people are fully implemented and that our community is educated and informed about their right to be free from discrimination in HUD-subsidized living situations.
Proposed Federal Rules Offer Hospital Visitation Rights for LGBT People
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed new rules that require federally funded hospitals to provide LGBT people with enhanced protections with respect to hospital visitation. The proposed rules allow patients to select their visitors and require hospitals to give those designated visitors the same access and privileges as immediate family members. The rules were issued in response to a President Obama memorandum asking HHS to develop standards for federally funded hospitals.
NCLR is hard at work drafting comments on the new regulations urging the administration to clarify and expand the policy to ensure equal and respectful treatment of LGBT patients in situations where a person falls ill or is incapacitated without having designated visitors. NCLR is also urging that the rules include close friends as well as same-sex partners, in recognition that many LGBT people are not in intimate relationships but depend upon networks of close friends.
NCLR Expands its Elder Law Program
NCLR proudly announces the expansion of our pioneering elder law advocacy work with the launch of the Del Martin LGBT Elder Advocacy Initiative. Daniel R. Redman, Esq. joins NCLR as the recipient of both the Pride Law Fund Tom Steel Fellowship and the Berkeley Law Foundation (BLF) Fellowship. Building on NCLR’s decade-long commitment to fighting for LGBT seniors, the Del Martin Initiative focuses on LGBT elders in long-term care facilities and other institutional settings. Through litigation, legislative work, and outreach to eldercare professionals, the project aims to make sure that LGBT elders are treated with dignity, care, and respect.
“We are deeply grateful to the Pride Law Fund and the Berkeley Law Foundation for their generous support of this project,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “NCLR’s pending case on behalf of Clay Greene, who was subjected to egregious mistreatment by officials from Sonoma County before and after the death of Clay’s long-term male partner, illustrates the profound vulnerabilities LGBT elders face. In coordination with advocates across the state, Daniel has already begun work drafting regulations to implement a law requiring LGBT-inclusive trainings for nursing home personnel. The Del Martin LGBT Elder Advocacy Initiative promises immediate results.”
Proyecto PoderosoRadionovelas and Staff Changes
Proyecto Poderoso, a joint project of NCLR and the California Rural Legal Assistance, is launching a new community education initiative, thanks to a generous grant from the Horizons Foundation. The grant will fund a radio drama series that will broadcast stories that share the lives and experiences of LGBT people and build a greater understanding about the importance of their legal rights. The series, to be produced and broadcasted in partnership with the Family Acceptance Project and Radio Bilingue, will blend themes of family acceptance and legal protection. It will be aired in Spanish throughout California’s Central Valley, Central Coast, and other rural parts of the state.
“This is an opportunity to use engaging, informative story lines to educate communities that often have very little information about LGBT people,” said Lisa Cisneros, Proyecto Poderoso director.
NCLR and CRLA partnered in 2007 to create Proyecto Poderoso in an effort to improve legal assistance for low-income LGBT people in the rural regions of California. With the leadership of Lisa Cisneros, CRLA attorneys, community workers, and support staff have been trained in LGBT-related issues and law. Under the project, hundreds of people have participated in rural community presentations on LGBT issues, and the project has provided direct legal services to clients facing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In September, attorney Daniel Torres will assume the role of Proyecto Poderoso director, as Lisa steps down to begin a federal judicial clerkship.
“We have made a real, positive difference for LGBT people who would have otherwise encountered serious, perhaps insurmountable barriers in justice,” says Lisa, “and I am confident that Proyecto Poderoso is in good hands with Dan.”
Before joining Proyecto Poderoso, Dan worked at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, organizing LGBT immigrants, conducting Know Your Rights presentations, and providing technical assistance to legal service providers and pro bono attorneys handling cases in the federal courts of appeals. Dan represented clients as a staff attorney at the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento, worked as a clinical instructor at the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic, and served as a staff attorney for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
NCLR Staff Updates
Managing Attorney Liz Seaton and Communications Director Calla Rongerude Depart NCLR
NCLR’s Director of Projects and Managing Attorney Liz Seaton leaves the organization this month to begin a cross-country trip with her family.
In her two years with NCLR, Liz has strengthened the organization’s presence in Washington D.C., and ensured that NCLR’s priorities are reflected in LGBT-related bills. Liz engaged Congressional members and their staff, members of the Administration, and other key players to achieve positive change in federal legislation to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Doing this work has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” says Liz. “I stand in awe of all that NCLR is and does to make a better future for people in this country. In my view, there is no more important organization in the movement today. Prior to joining the staff my partner Pat and I were longstanding NCLR donors and supporters. I am a fan, and today, once again, a donor. We must keep NCLR strong and fulfill its long-term vision for equality.”
NCLR Director of Communications Calla Rongerude will leave the organization this fall. She has garnered extensive media coverage for the organization’s groundbreaking legal work, including California’s historic marriage equality case, Jennifer Harris’ suit against Penn State, Susan Stanton’s termination by the City of Largo, Florida, and NCLR’s recent wins in the Supreme Court. In addition to securing bookings in national and local media outlets, she worked with partner and ally organizations to create robust public education and advocacy campaigns. Calla has raised NCLR’s national profile and shepherded the organization through its 30th anniversary branding campaign—including launching an entirely redesigned website. Calla will return briefly to NCLR from family leave in September before her family moves to Iowa.
We wish the best for Liz, Calla, and their families on their exciting adventures ahead. They will be greatly missed.
Erik Olvera Joins NCLR as Director of Communications
NCLR has hired Erik Olvera as its new Director of Communications. Erik joins us from Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the largest national nonprofit devoted exclusively to LGBT workplace equality. At Out & Equal, he led all marketing and communications initiatives, including rebranding the organization’s identity and furthering the organization’s reach beyond its core constituency. Prior to Out & Equal, Erik operated a marketing and communications consultancy, working specifically with nonprofit organizations, smaller businesses, and Fortune 500s to help them improve their outreach to hard-to-reach minority populations, with an emphasis on engaging Latino, African-American, Asian, and LGBT communities. Welcome Erik!
Meet NCLR’s Newest Board Member: Erin Dominguez
Erin Dominguez is the most recent addition to NCLR’s Board of Directors, having joined in May. She has been practicing law for three years, and transitioned from corporate litigation into family law in late 2009. She has been with her partner, Kristie, for six years and they are expecting a baby in October!
When and how did you first hear about NCLR?
I had heard about the amazing work NCLR was doing, but really got to know the organization during law school at Boalt. I took a class with Courtney Joslin, who was an NCLR staff attorney at that time, and met second and third year law students who had clerked at NCLR and loved it. I decided to spend my first summer clerking at NCLR as well.
What inspired you to first get involved with NCLR, and is there anything in particular about NCLR that has motivated you to continue to stay involved through the years?
I was inspired to get involved with NCLR because of the groundbreaking and cutting-edge impact litigation NCLR was doing in fighting for the rights of LGBT individuals and families. I loved every part of clerking at NCLR during my first law school summer. Everyone that worked at NCLR was so amazing, and deeply believed in what they were doing. During my first few weeks, I attended the oral arguments in the Elisa B. case before the California Supreme Court, and I knew then that NCLR was exactly where I wanted to be.
What are your hopes for and expectations of NCLR and our movement in the next few years?
I hope that NCLR can continue the critical work they do in protecting LGBT families, youth, workers, immigrants, and particularly those in underserved communities. I hope that we continue to make progress on the federal level, as well as making inroads into states where LGBT folks really need us.
What do you tell others about NCLR and why you’re involved?
I tell anyone who will listen about what an incredible organization NCLR is and all the vital work NCLR does for our communities.
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